Stoke City vs. Chelsea: Premier League Review
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A pair of own goals either side of half-time from Stoke's Jon Walters set the Blues on their way, and further strikes from Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard completed a fine 4-0 day at the office.
On the back of two scoreless home defeats and with four away wins on the trot, you could argue Chelsea were glad to be out of their parish.
But the Potters were on the back of a 17-game unbeaten stretch in the Premier League at home, and that confidence showed in the opening exchanges.
The hosts began brightly, pinning Chelsea back with typical tenacity and forcing a string of throws-in, set-pieces and corners which the visitors did well to deal with.
Kenwynne Jones should have given Stoke the lead on seven minutes, but after controlling Andy Wilkinson's mishit shot, the Trinidadian striker could only roll the ball past Petr Cech's far post when well placed.
Chelsea initially struggled to get in to the pace of the game, and it took them over 20 minutes to string anything together of note.
After ticking the ball around midfield, Hazard and Demba Ba quickly combined to free Frank Lampard for a shot. The Blues skipper had ghosted into the box in customary fashion but could then only fire at Asmir Begovic from 10 yards out.
As Stoke's approach became familiar, Rafa Benitez's side looked lively enough moving forward on the break, with Ba again providing a menace at the top of the attack.
The Senegalese striker brought another save from Begovic on the half-hour, but the Bosnian keeper could do nothing about the opener which followed.
In first-half injury time, Cesar Azpilicueta stood up a cross to the back post for Walters to meet full on and bury a header past the stricken Begovic.
After the break Ashley Cole and Steven N'Zonzi brought saves at either end as the game stretched nicely.
On the hour the home fans thought their side had been awarded a penalty after Azpilicueta brainlessly fouled Matthew Etherington in the box. Andre Marriner appeared to point to the spot, but the joy was soon muffled as it was discovered that Etherington had been flagged for offside before the foul.
And the mood around the Britannia Stadium didn't mellow much just a minute later when Walters glanced home his second from a corner.
Stoke couldn't muster much of a response from there, and Chelsea looked comfortable yet dangerous playing on the counter.
Blues skipper Lampard offered yet another reminder of why the club's high command should be doing everything to keep him, by sticking in another sterling performance.
Just after the hour, the veteran midfielder sent Juan Mata through with a precision pass, and after the Spaniard was bundled in the box, Lampard stepped up to slam home the penalty for his 194th Chelsea goal.
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The lively Hazard added further gloss with a stunning 25-yard left-footed fourth before the visitors went through the motions.
John Terry made a return to first-team action but looked rusty in felling Walters for another penalty, but after picking himself up, Walters completed a nightmare afternoon by firing the spot kick over the bar.
The win lifts Chelsea above Tottenham into third place in the Premier League, and the European Champions will have an immediate chance to build on this result when Southampton visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
There certainly didn't seem to be the apprehension and anxiety in Chelsea's play that haunts them at home, but if they can find the rhythm and swagger they displayed in tough surroundings against Stoke, the Blues should comfortably see of a Saints side they thumped last weekend.
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